Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Hack the Publishing Hackathon

Why a publishing hackathon?
Book discovery needs innovation. It’s never been easier to get a book into a reader’s hands—just one click. But, with over 10,000 books published each year on every topic imaginable, how do people find out about them? There are fewer bookstores to help readers discover exciting new authors and ideas. There’s currently no digital experience that replicates the serendipity of browsing bookshelves. Recommendation engines are fairly primitive – they know what you bought, but they don’t know why. It’s a disruptive opportunity that hasn’t been explored.
Seriously, the sponsors of this event don't think book discovery has been explored? I guess they were too busy suing Mr. Google to notice that Google Books is a pretty good discovery tool. I suppose they never thought to ask Mr. Wikipedia how many books are published every year.

All in all, I find the description of this hackathon INSULTING to just about every developer that's worked in the general vicinity of the book industry.

Umm. Mr. Steinberger. If you and Perseus really want to promote discovery innovation, then perhaps you have heard of Goodreads? They're driving some decent discovery of books. Maybe it doesn't count if Mr. Amazon is buying them. Perhaps you've heard of Amazon? They popularized the "If you liked this, maybe you'll like..." feature that everyone in the publishing industry tries to copy. If you don't like Goodreads, maybe I can introduce you to LibraryThing, which has been driving valuable book discovery in more ways than I can list here. I know that "library" in their name is a big turnoff for your big 6 colleagues, but libraries are huge book discovery machines. I don't suppose you want them to disrupt anything. And umm DP.LA????

People mostly discover books by word of mouth. Some  innovators promoting social reading include Readmill (who had their own publishing hackathon) and (giving props to the NYC home team) ReadSocial and the stuff Bob Stein has been exploring. And Kobo, Copia and Zola are doing some amazing things to integrate book discovery with ebook selling and reading environments. I've written previously about Jellybooks' fresh approach to discovery.

And some more on libraries. When I was at OCLC, we worked on real simple problems like "how do you discover the other editions of the same book?" and we found that publishers had NO CLUE what they'd published 5 years previous. So yeah, we did our bit.

But I'm coming to the hackathon anyway. because despite the ridiculous framing, this event has some clueful backers. NYPL for one. Small Demons for two. And they're even wasting prize money on a new age library metadata thingy. (I might be wrong about the wasting part.)

I'm hoping that some people will be interested in rethinking ebook front matter. Unglue.it needs books to work better all by themselves. The best discovery instrument for a book is the GDMF book, to my mind. So let the book do some work. With a little javascript. And no more DRM, thank you very much!
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  1. I am really interested in what is happening with this, for the reasons you mention, and would love to know what type of librarian representation will be there. I'd go, but I lack the tech/hack skills -- tho I can go on and on about what those with those skills should know about the art of readers advisory!

    1. In my limited hackathoning experience, people who have limited hack skills but can speak to developers and bring other key skills to the table (e.g. metadata, design, domain expertise) are EXTREMELY valuable, and the products that come out of those collaborations are typically better than those that come out of pure-developer teams.

  2. Replies
    1. Melissa, I'd love to see some elaboration on what "Catalogers, the original hackers" means.

  3. Another discovery app in the game is Stacklife - a virtual browser created by the Harvard Library Innovation Lab. It allows virtual browsing of all of the Harvard Libraries's collections with a heatmap feature showing use by the community - http://stacklife.harvard.edu

    Kim Dulin
    Harvard Library Innovation Lab

  4. The idea of removing barriers and making the book intrinsically discoverable seems like the right frame. Good perspective on the need for/focus of this hackathon.

  5. You are so adorably angry, Mr. Hellman!